Establishing a Business Referral Network: A New Revenue Approach for Career Counselors in Private Practice
By Mary Konow
There was a time, much too long ago, when I walked into the college career center and told the career center director that I wanted her job. Fast forward to 2015. My career path has lead me to establish my own career services business where that spark of boldness and creativity has helped me create the business of my dreams.
As career professionals, we love to help, but we may lack the business skills necessary for our practices to grow and flourish. The purpose here is to discuss business plan basics and offer several considerations for establishing a revenue generating referral network.
Successful businesses, even career counseling practices, require strategic planning. Developing a plan to target clients and grow your business can seem daunting. Sourcing clients can be difficult if you do not know for sure who you want to fill your schedule.
Develop Your Business Plan
Planning your business model is critical. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38.8 – 45.1% of new businesses fail in four years. Business experts contribute this failure to a lack of planning. Business plans should include detailed information, such as:
- Business structure (Sole-Proprietor, LLC, etc.)
- Unique selling proposition
- Detailed list of services and products
- Location of potential clients
- Service delivery methods
Generalist Or Specialist?
It is wise to consider if you want to be a specialist serving a specific type of client or a generalist, serving the masses. Include those details in your business plan. A benefit of running your own business is that you can choose the way you want to run it. Being clear and purposeful will aid you as your business grows. There are no wrong answers, but not having any answers will make success difficult.
Identify Your Target Clientele
Create a listing of those you want to serve. Write down every detail about your ideal client and consider the following:
Where are they located?
What level of education do they have?
What industry are they in?
If you are specializing in one industry, what industry and why?
Identify Your Network & Potential Partnerships
With your business basics ironed out, it will be easier to know how to reach your target clientele. Focusing in on this group will then allow you to develop a plan to reach them and market your services to them. For example, these valuable contacts could include: recruiters, headhunters, HR generalists, staffing agencies, job seekers groups, and professional association members.
Building relationships is essential. When considering a partnership, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have a solid professional relationship?
- Can you speak openly about your goals with your contacts?
- Do you feel confident this person would speak of you in a positive manner?
- Can you reciprocate in the partnership?
After building a professional relationship and sharing business goals with the associate, you can better determine if there is potential for creating a referral program.
My business has grown due to personal referrals. I have chosen specific avenues to generate potential client leads. Some referrals are informal, with contacts telling me they will send clients my direction. I give them a stack of business cards to share. I keep in touch through email and phone. Others are more formal. For example, I created a referral program with several key contacts throughout my area. We connected and discussed business goals, personal goals and created a referral program that was valuable to both parties. I created an opportunity to be the featured career counselor to support my associate who was regularly in front of my ideal clientele.
My associate agreed to place my ad on her company website, include my business information in her presentations, and hand out my marketing materials. She refers clients to me and I, in turn, send her a small referral fee after the lead becomes an established client. The arrangement benefits business goals for each party. Let the relationship you have with your associate determine the level of formality.
Referral Network Benefits
There are many benefits to establishing and maintaining a referral network. You not only grow your business, but it builds your professional credibility, expands your reach and drives additional revenues to your business.
Update & Reevaluate
For a referral network to be effective, update your network regularly to ensure a mutual benefit for all parties. Such efforts require organization, open communication and the discipline to reevaluate programs and initiatives to determine if the program is working for all parties involved. Take time regularly to reevaluate your business goals and the effectiveness of your efforts:
- Is your business captivating your ideal clients?
- What strategies worked?
- How can the efforts be improved to benefit both parties?
As counselors, we are helpers by nature but we may let successful business practices take a back seat to our work. We need to deliver solid and effective career services to clients and we need to nurture our business needs. Business ownership requires boldness, fortitude, and a willingness to learn, grow and evolve. Establishing solid business practices through effective referral networks can grow your professional brand, open doors to new opportunities and build a solid client base. As career services professionals we are in the business of helping clients determine their best course; let’s ensure our businesses are charted for success as well.
Mary Konow, MS, GCDF, is a Career Coach, Resume Writer and LinkedIn Makeover Specialist and owner of MK Career Designs, a successful career coaching business based in Roseville, CA. She has the distinct privilege of coming alongside her clients creating “aha!” moments that empower them towards their career goals. She serves a growing clientele, both locally and internationally within a wide range of industries including: business management, IT, public service, education, agriculture, criminal justice, insurance, non-profit, finance, marketing and sales. She regularly volunteers as a career coach for local job search groups. She loves helping job seekers gain confidence, get “unstuck,” and polish the skills that position them for success. Learn more about Mary on her website: www.MKCareerDesigns.com and connect with Mary by email at Mary@MKCareerDesigns.com and on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/marykonow